MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The former Memphis mayor says taxpayers have been billed for hundreds and thousands because of needless spending. Willie Herenton says the plans for merging city and county schools are almost identical to a plan he devised almost 10 years ago.
Herenton is a former Memphis Superintendent of Schools who says his plans for charter schools are being held up because of "politics and gatekeepers."
As usual, the former mayor holds nothing back. He says the plan endorsed by the merger transitional committee, which looks at splitting a merged system into six smaller separate districts, is virtually a carbon copy of his plan. The only difference he says is the new plan will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; his plan would have cost nothing.
Willie Herenton made the journey from poverty to success, and there's one reason he made it.
"I came out of the slums of this community because of education."
He is Dr. Willie W. Herenton thanks to his PhD. The man, known as 'Doc' by his friends, loved being Superintendent of Memphis schools. He loved working with the children. Even as mayor, he never lost his teaching background, often telling reporters and others to do their homework before trying to deal with certain things.
"You know me, Mike. I'm just a very blunt, very factual and truthful guy."
He said almost laughed when he saw a recent proposal to split the merged city and county schools into six smaller districts. That was his idea presented years ago.
"I look at the plan that's on the table today; it has so many major features of what I proposed for Memphis and Shelby County at least five or six years ago."
The former mayor says the trouble is Memphis is filled with people he calls "gatekeepers".
"There are some unique gatekeepers in Memphis. And a lot of times they block out local talent to bring in national people that really don't know our culture. They don't know this community. And they don't really know education."
When he was mayor, Willie Herenton had feuds with the suburban mayors. He didn't like them and they didn't like him. But when it comes to them starting their own school systems, educator Willie Herenton is a bit different.
"What I would say is this is America, land of opportunity and choices. I believe in option and choices. Just make sure they're equitable when they come to financing these educational institutions. Let 'em have at it," he said. "There needs to be an educational reform plan that allows choices and options for parents and students, whether it's in the unified [school district], whether it's charter schools, or whether it's municipal schools."
The former mayor is trying to start up charter schools in Memphis, but says there are road blocks being thrown up at him closing the gates to his plans.
"It's caught up in the politics of Memphis and Nashville. I told you there are some gatekeepers who want to control the educational enterprise and marketplace, and right now we're in an appellate process. We're waiting for a decision."
The old Golden Gloves boxer was known for never walking away from a fight, and he's got a few going on now. One is to get his charter schools. Another is concerning a tax lien against him by the Internal Revenue Service.
"We have a difference in opinion on some matters. But we're still trying to resolve it."
His political future is over, he says. Now he wants to educate once all of this fighting is done.
"When you have an issue with the IRS it gets fairly contentious."